Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
First Published: 19 April 2018
Rating: 5 stars
“I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead then anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”
I will start by saying that I was given an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child. Not powerful like her father or viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft. A power that can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology. But there is a danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
This is my most anticipated book of the year. The Song of Achilles is one of my all-time favourite books and I couldn’t wait for Madeline Miller’s second book. I was a little worried that Circe wasn’t going to live up to her first book since I’m not familiar with Circe’s story as I was with Patroculs, Achilles and The Trojan War. But I am glad to be proven wrong. Miller is a gifted writer, as a reader, I feel content to sit back and let her weave the story. She has this way of bringing these myths to life and making the Gods seem relatable and human beneath their perfect looks and awesome power.
Unlike with The Song of Achilles, this story focuses on a mostly forgotten character of mythology. I had only come across Circe in The Odyssey. As most of you know, she’s the witch who turned Odysseus’ men into pigs. But in reality, she’s much more than that. She doesn’t fit in with the god and is too similar to the mortals. She is exiled for her difference. Finding solace in her isolating, she takes the time to learn about her power as a way to protect her from the danger that gods and men bring to a woman alone.
I loved learning her history, of seeing why she’d ever turn men into pigs. She’s more complex than I ever would’ve guessed. I am so thankful Miller has written this story. There aren’t the many women is Greek Myth who have as much control over their own lives Circe does. It was refreshing to see Circe as a woman doing what she can survive, rather than as the evil witch.
One of the most surprising things about this story was just how connected Circe is to the other famous heroes, including the monstrous Minotaur, doomed Icarus, the hero Jason and his dangerous wife Medea and of course cunning Odysseus. I want to go back to the myths and see if Circe is mentioned.
The story feels fabled in places and reflects the lyrical prose perfectly. But it’s not to say this book isn’t packed full of all dark mythic themes of pain, punishment, violent grief and revenge. There are some powerful scenes that leave you feeling wounded. In between these defining moments of Circe’s life, the pace stretches back into the dreamlike state. The change doesn’t pull you from the story but rather emulates the classical storytelling of antiquity. Also, reflects Circe. As a goddess in her own right, she is immortal and doesn’t have the same sense of time as we mere mortals do. I enjoyed seeing this because maybe being able to live forever is as grand as we think it would be.
Circe is a stunning tale and I flew through it, which is saying something as I’d been in a bit of a reading slump all year. I cannot recommend this book enough. If you love Greek myth, magic, in-depth character studies and/or beautiful writing you need to pick this book up. I cannot wait to see what Miller tackles next.